Chapter 1: An Unmarked Package

Luca’s shift at Swan ended just after the lunch rush. He stepped out into the sunshine, took a deep breath of the January-disguised-as-summer air, and surveyed the scene on Polk Street. A horde of lap-topped hipsters nibbled gourmet toast at a corner café. Good Vibrations offered a sale on butt plugs. Pearl, an elderly Chinese lady who had once given him a very lucrative stock tip, swept the sidewalk in front of her reflexology shop. He waved to her. She smiled broadly and gave him a thumbs-up.

The current, prevailing angst about town involved handwringing over how much, and how quickly, the city had changed. But Luca, as a born-and-bred San Franciscan, knew better than most just how prone to change the city really is. He wasn’t inclined to hold this latest incarnation against the techies any more than he was willing to vilify the hippies before them or the Gold Rushers before them or the Chinese before them or the missionaries before them. His strategy of keeping to himself, paying the rent on time and going about his business had been working out just fine, thankyouverymuch. Besides, he thought, if they’re still finding body parts in suitcases South of Market, then things couldn’t have changed that much.

He hopped on his bike starting toward his apartment in North Beach. He’d barely made it two blocks when, remembering that Fred was off on a Bearracuda cruise, he changed his mind about going directly home. Instead he pulled over, chained his bike to a rack, and pushed through the swinging saloon doors at the Cinch.

Without giving his eyes much time to adjust to the darkness, he moved past the length of the bar, paused near a drawing of a lion fucking a man just long enough to order a beer, and then continued out to the back patio where he lit a joint and sipped his beer. Sitting there in the daylight his thoughts turned to a particularly strange interaction he’d had the day before with an occasional business associate. Luca had been asked to kill lots of times before, that wasn’t the strange part. But this particular request was something new entirely.

Before he had a chance to think for long, he noticed the guy sitting across from him. He noticed the guy noticing him. The guy wearing the “Weapon of Ass Destruction ” t-shirt. Luca took a drag off the joint and then handed it wordlessly to the handsome stranger.

“Your pun is a bit outdated, no?” Luca kidded.

“Yeah, I guess so. But it still fits.”

“The shirt?”

“The pun.”

*          *          *

45 minutes and half a bottle of Gun Oil later, Luca lay on his stomach breathing heavily into a pillow on the stranger’s bed. Yes, the pun fit—albeit snugly. The satisfied smile on Luca’s face was testament to that.

“Hang on,” the handsome stranger said, his weapon still resting along the crack of Luca’s ass. “Let me clean you up.” He leaned over, grabbed a towel from the bedside, and wiped his hefty load off Luca’s back. He dismounted, rolled over, and leaned back against the headboard next to Luca who did the same.

“What do think? New Jersey?” he asked holding the stained towel up to the light. Luca looked at him, perplexed.

“See, the stain, it looks like New Jersey. I always try to see which state the stain looks like,” the handsome yet somewhat odd handsome stranger explained. “Hawaii is easy. And you’d be amazed at how many come stains look like Florida. But Wyoming and Utah are the rarest. Too square.”

Luca looked at his watch and decided it was time to go. “I need to get home to receive a package,” which, all unintentional puns aside, was the truth.

*          *          *

Luca arrived at the gate just before sunset. It wasn’t evening yet. But the gnarl of old tree trunks and vined canopy at the entrance to his apartment building blocked the day’s final rays and made it feel later than it was.

He locked his bike alongside some others and made his way to the front door of his garden flat. The package was there, waiting for him. He sat on the stoop and slid the box next to him.

Carefully he opened the box examining its contents as if it were some sort of a macabre mystery basket from Chopped. He could hear Ted Allen’s voice declare, “Hello, chefs, let’s see what kind of trouble you can cook up with a pair of pre-paid cell phones, a chocolate Lab puppy, and a dossier on a certain silicon valley billionaire.”

Jesus, Luca thought, shaking his head and scratching his beard. He stood, fished his keys from his pocket, turned to the little brown dog at his heals and asked, “You ready to do this, little fella?”